Black bear cub in snow

This work features in an album of paintings and calligraphy by various artists, the practise of making these albums was a trend in early 19th century. The albums were made for several reasons including to celebrate someone’s venerated old age, to wish a friend farewell, for an exhibition, or to commemorate a meeting or visit.

This painting of a black bear cub in the snow by Mori Shūhō was the first painting in the album and was painted when the artist was sixty-two. The small bear with blue eyes looks directly out at us as he sits uneasily on a ledge amid the snowflakes. His furry coat is painted with the skill befitting a Mori school artist. Shūhō was a member of the Mori school of painters who specialised in humanised depictions of animals. He was the elder brother of Sosen (1747-1821), the famous painter of monkeys. Though less well regarded than his brother, Shūhō was a respected and prolific artist in his hometown of Osaka. This painting is signed ‘hokkyō (Bridge of the Law) Shūhō', and was done before he attained the highest honorary rank of hōin (Seal of the Law). Shūhō often wrote his age after his signature, as done here, making it possible to chart his career quite closely.

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Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 29 on pp. 108-116, pp. 14 & 84, illus. p. 109 fig. 6

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